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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Training Continues

Training Scratch for His New Job

My job - as I see it - is to spend as much time as I can with Scratch.  The pressure of the competition is over.  He needs to settle in to the fact that the "just surviving" part of his life is going to be taken care of from now on.  There will be things expected from him.  Things like work.  He'll have to get used to other people and cars and other scary things that inhabit civilized worlds.  He'll have to work cows and maybe rope.  Much more will be expected from him as a rider's horse.  He will need to be more responsive to cues and, most importantly, he will have to trust the rider's judgement.

We have been spending quite a lot of time riding and working in the snaffle.  Riding around the stable with other horses and the equipment that operates around the place.  Gradually, I've taken him to events and worked him around the other people and horses.

It's difficult for me to know if I am boring the shit out of him with the riding.  I understand you can do this.  The horse just sees nothing in it for him.  I'm just OCD enough to create this in my horse and just aware enough it might be a possibility.  While I'm not sure how I would know if Scratch was bored, I knew I was getting a bit bored with it all and chose to turn my focus to groundwork for a week or so.

We've been working on the ground playing with some liberty exercises.  He doesn't trust me enough to stick around.  Our area is quite large and when I take him of the line, he usually leaves,  We continued to work and he is getting better with things.  I think the break does him some good, although I really think he just like to work.

He got good enough at some of the exercises I filmed some so those of you who are interested might follow along.  We did do some cool lungeing stuff, but it's boring as crap to watch on video.  I don't want to bore you any more than I want to bore Scratch.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Competition is Over

The competition is over.  Scratch and I managed to pull out a 4th place finish despite a few problems.  The top three finishers were all professional horse trainers who make a living training horses.  Scratch was my first. There were four phases of the competition.  We had to negotiate an obstacle course from the ground, then under saddle.  We performed a freestyle routine, where I rode bridle-less and blindfolded.  The final phase was to take an untrained colt and gentle it.  We had three one hour sessions and were judged on how well we hooked up.

 There were many stories to tell from the experience and I hope to share them with you on the upcoming podcasts.  The best one is, that at the end of the event the horses were auctioned off.  Not every trainer chose to sell their horse.  We had to.  We own a half an acre with two Quarter Horses.  There just isn't room.  The man who bought Scratch manages a 40,000 acre cattle ranch nearby and hired me to continue Scratch's training and invited me to the ranch so Scratch can continue his education.  It looks like Scratch will spend the rest of his life working cows.  I really appreciate the vote of confidence the ranch manager gave me too! Anyway, here are two of the videos we shot of the event.  There is more if you want at my YouTube channel.  I hope you enjoy them.  Feel free to comment.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Questions and Answers

I am getting a few questions about Scratch on Facebook and thought I would post my answers here.  This is the first one:

This is my response to someone asking about if he would be good for urban trail riding. I go over a couple of other points too and this will save me from typing everything again. If you have any questions after looking this info over, I will do my best to answer them.
Just so you know this is my first try at training a horse from the beginning....starting from scratch....
Scratch has a quick smooth walk and a nice sitting trot. He canters beautifully on his right lead, I am having a few problems with his left. When I get it, it's a bit more choppy but not too bad.
As for suburbia, that's a tough one at this point. While understandably nervous at first, walking him through the stables at Rancho Rio was a scary experience. Now, most times, he does it with much more relaxation.
Despite my efforts to desensitize to things on the ground under his feet, he can still spook there although the times he has as I recall have all occurred when I've been on the ground similar to the event at the Parade (let me know if you DON'T know that story).
I took him to a ranch for three days (just returned yesterday) and we moved around the property with another rider through the countryside experiencing cows and dead trees and such. The ranch was also hosting a wedding and there were water trucks, and tents, etc. Early yesterday I wanted to ride, but as it's a remote location and no one was available to go with me, I chose to ride in the covered arena. Scratch is at a point that I don't always do groundwork, a two hour hilly ride the day before I thought was enough. After a short warmup, when I asked for a whoa and he didn't stop (this usually is how I know where his attention is) I went to one rein stop him and he bucked across the small arena. Thankfully he has a small buck or kick up and I don't know whether it was because the arena was covered or small or what. That was the only such show of discontent that ride and we went through the remainder of our training session as usual.
I tell you this in the spirit of full disclosure. My suggestion would be to come watch the event. With all the cars and horses and people I am interested to see how he does. How he will handle the freestyle program I have planned will answer many of your questions.
Scratch has had his dental and two rounds of vaccines. He is a fairly easy keeper and loves to eat. He will be hard to let go.
Oh, and one last thing. I've done all our training in the hackamore. I knew nothing about it when I started and have learned quite a bit. I have not transitioned him to the snaffle because I wanted to be consistent with him as possible.
Thanks for you interest in Scratch. Please come up and introduce yourself to me at the event. I would love you to meet Scratch in person.

Having Some Fun with the Mounting Block

I just can show you how we do the mounting block, I have to pretend we are installing options like on a car.  You get to see my wonderful acting.  Scratch is not an actor.  The stuff he does is genuine!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Parade

The Parade

People love parades.  Well, most people.  I’m not what you would call a “parade person”.  Crowds of people make me nervous.  With so many people around I just never know where to direct my attention.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t dislike parades.  If I stumble onto the Rose Parade New Year’s morning, I’ll enjoy a cup of joe and admire the roses, but probably only because I’m too hungover to pick up the remote.

There are only three reasons for me to go to any parade.  One, somebody I love is in it or wants to go.  Two, I am assigned to photograph the parade.  Or, three, this instance, where I am in the parade promoting a wild horse training event by walking my wild horse, Scratch, through the middle of town with other horse owners from the same herd.

The parade is in a little mountain town about an hour away from my home and Scratch’s stable.  It’s not too far from where I picked up Scratch after entering the Vaquero Heritage Trainers’ Challenge.  While not technically a trainer, I had covered last year’s event with a podcast and photos and became fixated on training a horse that had no foundation.  My Quarter Horse mare, Jessie, had been started by someone else.  While I had taken over the training and developed her into a solid trail horse, I had built on what someone else had begun.  Jessie regularly places in trail trials and obstacle course challenges.  But still, I have a desire to start with a clean slate, an “un-started horse”, and see what level of trust and training I can reach.  This is how I now find myself with a wild horse to train.  

Eight of us are scheduled to walk or ride behind the banner promoting our wild horse training event happening in just a few months.  Five of the horses have been with their owners for quite some time and are well behaved.  My horse, Scratch, has me as a trainer.  Eight short weeks ago he was running wild with his herd in the nearby mountains.  While we are making a lot of progress, most of our work has taken place in my backyard.  The day before the big event I wonder if we are  “parade ready”.

The morning of the parade starts very early.  A little after 4 am Scratch gets breakfast consisting of a flake of hay.  He’s not used to seeing me so early and cocks his head as if to say, “What are you up to now?” before tearing the flake apart.  After my breakfast, it’s  a bath for Scratch with the works, shampoo AND conditioner.  “If nothing else,” I think to myself, “at least we’ll look good.”

By 6:15 we are on the road.  Many horses hate the trailer because it’s a closed, confined place.  Horses generally feel trapped and claustrophobic in trailers.  Scratch and I worked diligently on the art of trailer loading using one of the tenets of Tom Dorrance, the famed horse trainer.  Tom said, “Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult.”  I worked Scratch outside the trailer and let him rest inside the trailer.  In no time he figured out that inside the trailer meant “not work”, which ranks just below sleeping and eating on the top ten list of most horses.

As my trailer turns into the K-mart parking lot, our designated staging area, the sun is climbing above the mountains.  Scratch is shifting his weight in the trailer signalling he is not too happy with how fast I took that last turn.  We are early as usual.  I sip the last remnants of my coffee and wonder what I am really doing here.  My insecurities surface.  Sure, Scratch needs to get out in the world.  He needs to see and hear things.  The competition is in a few short weeks and the pressure will be much more intense in front of a crowd of people , but is he ready for a parade today?

We check in with our group of horses at 7:30 for a parade that starts at 10 am.  Scratch and I find an area to do some of our training exercises.  Moving his feet keeps him calm.   Horses are flight animals and making them stand still when they are nervous is like locking them in the closet.  Allowing him to move his feet makes him feel safe.  It also keeps my mind off the fact we will soon be walking down a street lined with people, balloons, and waving flags.  My confidence is a metronome swinging from, “Relax, it’s no problem” to “Dead man walking”.  We haven’t known each other for a long time, but I can tell Scratch is unsure of what exactly is happening around him.  We find a place to stand near the rest of our parade-marching friends, both horse and people.  There is security in numbers.  

Horses can adapt quickly and Scratch seems to be settling into this environment.  Horses have “tells” when they begin to relax and I note Scratch takes a deep breath and cocks a hind leg.  He is telling me he sees no immediate threat and he’ll tolerate the high school band and group of motorcycles gearing up for the march.

At nine-thirty the rodeo queens come rolling in with their trailers and suddenly our once spacious staging area is full of trucks, trailers, and pretty girls riding glittered horses.  Time to move Scratch around again.  What must he be thinking?  Two months ago his world consisted of 120 brothers and sisters, trees and grass.   

Ten am.  The moment of truth.  Turning to check on Scratch, I see a leg cocked, an ear forward, and a soft eye, more signs of relaxation.  Yeah, we’ll be alright.   For many horses moving toward the thing that has them fearful as it moves away helps them become braver.  I move Scratch in on the marching band as it passes by and heads down the assigned route.  He’s alert, but not bothered.  Then, the Civil War re-enactors on their horses followed by the Harley-Davidson Veterans group.  We remain calm as one of the organizers stops by to say our group will march near the end of the parade.

As a flatbed trailer pulls into line with group of 8-14 year old girls from a dance academy, I fumble my lead rope and it slips to the ground.  As I bend to pick it up, Scratch puts his leg through, and in the flash of that moment I come up with him all tangled up.  His head goes straight up and I feel the slack in the lead disappear.  Calmly I speak to him, but it’s too late.  He’s pulls back.  No Scratch, not now.  I move with him.  “Whoa”. “Whoaaa”.  Shit!  His momentum builds and I’m out of position.  I have two choices:  hang on to the rope and end up on the ground or  let go and he’s gone.

In the next millisecond I know hanging on is not an option.  He is leaving whether I hold on or not as I feel the rope heat up in my hands.   In a flash the question in my head is, “Where is he going to go?  We are boxed in by all these trailers.”  I let go and hope he realizes he is not in danger.  Scratch spins and digs in and I can’t help but admire his speed and agility.  He heads for the street and panic displaces admiration and I freeze for a moment.  Someone tries to stop him and his feet slip on the asphalt.  I lose sight of him as he darts behind all the trailers, then, realizing my horse is galloping for the hills, I take off at a run.  Up ahead, Jeremy, one of the organizers of the event and a darn good horseman, is jogging along after Scratch.

As they turn a corner first Scratch disappears, then Jeremy.   My heart is pounding as I round the corner and see Scratch run himself into a fenced parking area and stop.  I breathe again.  Jeremy grabs the lead rope and walks toward me as I reach my runaway horse.  The absolutely worst thing a horseman can do is lose his horse.  Scratch is my responsibility and I put him in a situation he wasn’t ready to handle.  As I take him from Jeremy Scratch looks at me as if to say, “Hey, I run first and ask questions later.”

As we get back to the staging area, the organizers announce we are up next.  I can be as headstrong as Scratch and unless someone pulls us out, we are marching in this damn parade!  We immediately fall in behind our banner billowing in the morning breeze.  Both of us are trying to catch our breath and I feel the nervous sweat soaking through my shirt.   My face is red in embarrassment.  I had lost my horse.  My worst fear of the day is realized and the parade hasn’t even started.

Horses teach you not to dwell in the past.  They live in the moment.  If I don’t myself get back to the present, whatever is out there to scare Scratch next, would get us both again.  Everything I had been taught told me to keep Scratch’s attention on me.  Horses can only think about one thing at a time.  He will be less bothered by the balloons if I can keep him focused on watching me.  One of the lessons he learned is to move his hindquarters away when I shake my finger at his rump.  It’s called disengaging hindquarters and his attention has to be on me, not our surroundings.  I move him back and forth in front of me yielding his back end as we walk down the narrow parade route.  

It is about a mile to the end of the route and I have tunnel vision.   My eyes are on my horse and every time Scratch even thinks about about being scared I disengage his hindquarters.  As we near the announcer's’ stand we are introduced.  Scratch is behaving.  He is moving off my finger just as I had taught him.  Then I notice the people lining the streets.  Holy cats! they are close, no more than ten feet away.  Kids with smiles at the sight of a shiny black horse.  People are waving and calling out “Beautiful horse!”.  As we near the end of our route I yield Scratch one more time with my finger.  As he comes around I look up and make eye contact with a woman standing next to her son.  Both smile and she says, “You have that wild horse trained pretty well, mister.”  I tip my hat in thank you and think, “This is why I love a good parade.”  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Working Through the Obstacle Course

One of our Supporters for the Vaquero Heritage Trainers' Challenge is Joanne Galbraith owner of Galbraith Trailer Sales and Tack.  Joanne also does training and right now her arena is set up for gymkhana and trail trials.  Joanne has been very generous about letting us use her place to train and Scratch and I have taken full advantage of it.  I drug the video camera out on our last visit and took some shots of Scratch and I going through the various challenges.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fear Is A Termite

Let me first just say, Scratch has never thrown me. He has kicked up a few times, but nothing with any enthusiasm.  We've ridden a lot. He has gotten away from me a couple of times. Once at the parade (You'll read about that in another post.) A couple of times in the yard and once in a round pen. 

Our arena riding has been going along great, but if Scratch is to be a good trail horse I need to get him out on the trail. While I know it's not likely, my biggest fear is Scratch will toss me or scrape me off under a branch and head back to his home in Oak Creek. 

We were riding through the stables a few weeks ago. When we got near the end of a row of stables something spooked Scratch and he took off. I reached for a one-rein stop, but he was already braced, so I grabbed my night latch and hung on. Scratch lunged forward, stopped quickly to eye a hitching post, then dodged right. I guided him past a tree as he galloped off. We were in the open now, the stable's event parking lot and we had good footing and space to navigate. Scratch was loping pretty good and I managed to reach down and rub him on the neck. I asked for a whoa, but he wasn't ready to listen yet.  

After letting him go a little farther, I reached down and rubbed him again, asked for a whoa, and when I did not get it, pulled him around for a one-rein stop.  Then, I dismounted and I think this is where I made a mistake.  He wasn't standing still, I had a lot of adrenaline going through me, but most of all, I wanted off. I wasn't thinking that I would be rewarding Scratch for bolting. 

It took me quite a few days to even want to ride outside the arena again. It really bothered me too. Scratch was doing better work in the arena, but without the trail work, my goals can't be reached.  I had to find a way to get him outside the arena. 

Finally, after a week and a half of worrying about it, it was just time to do it. We left the arena and started working the areas just outside. Was Scratch on high alert or was it me?  Perhaps a little of both. He started trotting and I hadn't asked for it. Immediately we started doing circles around everything I could find, a cone on the ground, a pile of dirt, a trailer and a telephone pole. The more I worked him the more relaxed I became and he stayed paying attention to the instructions I was giving. 

It wasn't much, but it was a start. We headed for the front arena. We had to negotiate other horses, vehicles, and pedestrians.  We had to ride by where he had bolted before.  While still just a bit on edge, he handled it well. We made it to the arena where there is a water trough, got a drink, and considered the ride a success. 

It was a couple of days before we could get out there again. When we did I took him down into the riverbed. The walking was much more labored but I felt comfortable that he was not going to take off. We followed the riverbed for about half a mile then jumped up on the main trail. It's not very wide in most spots perhaps 15-20 feet. Scratch was going out amazingly well. Had I worried over nothing?

We got to where I had planned to turn around. The river is mostly dry from our drought. There is one spot up river where there is a good spot to get a drink. I dismounted and led Scratch to the shore. He didn't want anything to do with it. I led him back to the trail, it's fairly narrow here, to mount. He seemed really agitated and fidgety. 

We did some groundwork and when that didn't improve I led him back up the trail to find a wider spot to mount. Once mounted all he wanted to do was gallop back the way we came. I didn't let him, of course, I bent him around, serpentined, and even tried backing him up. Nothing worked. After about 40 minutes I dismounted again and walked along the trail dejected. How could he be so different?  Leading was a breeze. Scratch certainly has no problems walking along side. It is hard to fathom how leading and riding can be so very different. 

When we get to within a few hundred yards of the stable, I remounted and Scratch walked along calmly. When we got back I loped in the round pen just to remind him there is work to be done at or near the stables. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Six Weeks to Go

Scratch has been working really hard to get ready.  We've been lucky enough to use the arenas at Rancho Rio Equestrian Stables.  They are great!  There are several different sizes and things go on around each one.

I still have not ridden Scratch out of the arena much.  Last week while we were riding around the stable he spooked at something and bolted.  It wasn't bad - bad, but it was scary.  I got him under control, but I had to fight my emothions some and let Scratch go a bit before I regained control.  I feel I really need to get him comfortable out on the trail to consider this project a success.

Slowly I'm getting the hang of the hackamore. Scratch is responding to it better and better.  It really is a fascinating tool.

Ranae went out with me on Sunday and shot some video.  She really helps me with my riding a lot. Anyway we put some of the stuff to some of my favorite music and you can see what we are working on.

Yesterday Scratch got his second series of vaccinations from Bakersfield Vet Hospital.  Today he looked fine in his pen.  I felt the injection sites and there was not a reaction.  I loaded him up and when I unloaded him at the stable he was drooling profusely.  I checked his mouth - nothing.  He had eaten breakfast and pooped.  We did a little groundwork then I thought I would just take his temp.  It was 102.6.  I loaded him back in the trailer and brought him home to give him the rest of the day off.  He is quietly munching lunch as I write this....

Friday, August 21, 2015

Learning from Vaquero Boone Campbell

One of the reasons I'm even able to compete in the Vaquero Heritage Trainers Challenge is my history with the Whoa Podcast about Horses and Horsemanship.  Through the show I've met and interviewed many excellent horsemen and woman.  I interviewed Boone Campbell earlier this year for a show we did at the Ojai Cowboy School.  I was able to get a great video of Boone describing the workings and effects of the hackamore and spade bits.

Working with Scratch and trying to stay true to my limited knowledge of the Vaquero way has been tough.  I called Boone and asked if he would give me some pointers.  He invited me over to the ranch for a few hours of just hanging out and talking horses.

It meant another 2 1/2 hour trailer ride for Scratch.  He is getting great at riding in the trailer.  We arrived around two in the afternoon and did a little ground work.  Boone was riding a horse at another ranch and showed up just as we were finishing.  We talked about the hackamore in general, then he looked at mine and showed me how to tie the reins to give Scratch a little more room.  It's not that Scratch has a big snout or anything, I'm using some thick horse hair reins.

Scratch was energized by the new location.  The arena had water troughs on the outside he could see.  There were trees and cones and halters along the fence.  He was really sensitive and when he's like this he just wants to move.  I let him.  We trotted around the arena.  The sand footing slowed him a bit, but he finally broke into a lope and kicked up a bit.  As we went along, Boone would call out instructions or give me his take on what and how I was doing.

All the years of using the snaffle have created a set of muscle memory that doesn't really work with the hackamore.  I need to keep my reins shorter while loping.  When Scratch is in a circle and doing well it's important to not micromanage him.  Wait for the mistake, then correct it, instead of correcting the mistake he is about to make.  One other tendency I have is to keep my reins at a fixed length.  I need to be constantly adjusting them for the situation I'm in, especially during the learning process.

Boone also talked about keeping the horse's front end up and light.  "In order for him to change directions quickly he will have to move off his back end.  That's where his weight needs to be to pivot,"  Boone told me.

We did get a few compliments.  Boone likes the build of Scratch.  He is stout and has a wide base.  We showed him our sidepass and stop.  The stop is definitely the more impressive of the two.  Scratch really gets his back end under him.  The back up is coming along.

The philosophy of the hackamore is to keep the horse in balance.  To get him to work with you because it is easy for him to do so.  I was able to learn a lot in the couple of hours we rode together.  Now, I just have to put it to practice.  Scratch has been working hard the last three weeks.  After a long day in the trailer and working in the arena, I'm giving him a couple of days off to recuperate.  It will be interesting to see how he handles things when we get back to work on Sunday.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Good Days are Starting to Pile Up

Making Progress

A little more than a week ago we visited trainer and friend Matt Sheridan in Tehachapi.  Matt is an all around good hand and very knowledgeable in the hackamore.  I was getting frustrated with the hackamore and considering just using my snaffle.  It seemed I just could not get control of Scratch with the hackamore.

Matt walked me through some of the techniques. Bumping instead of pulling and using my legs more were great suggestions.  He told me I needed to release quicker too.

One other excellent suggestion was to ride Scratch in the halter.  "Tie the reins like you would the hackamore, don't worry if they are straight, and just see what happens.", he said.

On the first ride I put him through some basic exercises.  I was much more comfortable using the halter.  He seemed more comfortable in it too.  Then asked him to lope.  He needed a bit of encouragement, but off we went.  What a grand feeling!  We loped around the medium arena and when I asked for the whoa he set his back feet under him and stopped on a dime.

And, there was another plus since my last post.  We have access to two arenas.  Both places were very nice to let me bring Scratch in, but there were things in each one.  One was an old roping arena and had the chute and boxes.  The other had a bunch of obstacles.  Now we'll get to obstacles soon enough, but when Scratch gets going, I did not want to worry about him running into something.  I talked to Helen McKee at our local Rancho Rio Stables and she loved that I was participating in the VHTC.  She's letting me use the round pens and arenas.  The are very nice.  A variety of sizes and we get to practice with a lot of other horses around.  I shot some video today too.  I am getting ready to edit it and hope to have something posted soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

We are Moving Along

It has been a hectic couple of weeks.  Not only with Scratch, but just around our place.  July is usually when we get our hay in for the year.  This was made more complicated by the presence of Scratch in two ways.  First, we had to secure more hay for a third hungry, hard-working horse.  Secondly, we store the hay at the back of our property and we now had a round-pen and Scratch's pen right in the middle.  But, we got the job done.

We did shoot video of Scratch's 6th ride and I finally got it edited:

 It hasn't all been peaches and creme.  I took Scratch out to an nearby arena and while he was tied there were several scary goings on.  He pulled back, jumped forward and scraped his head pretty darn good.  He'll have another Scratch to add to his collection.

Loping continues to evade us.  He trots easily enough, but no desire to lope.  We'll continue to push ahead.  The hackamore remains a challenge for me.  I am getting some instruction on its use from a local, knowledgeable trainer, Matt Sheridan, but the techniques are challenging.  Once again, we just keep pushing on.  It will come.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Scratch Goes to the Vet

Okay, first things first.  I really thought I would have more time to document our progress.  As it turns out, training a horse and maintaining your normal household duties is a real chore!

Our first ride was the 20th of July.  We've been riding every day since then.  I started in a snaffle and quickly moved to the hackamore.  I wasn't sure what kind of shape Scratch's teeth were in and I didn't want to hurt his mouth.  It turns out that was a good decision.

One of our sponsors for the VHTC is Bakersfield Large Animal Vet Hospital.  Dr. Tolley has been very supportive and agreed to do a medical exam and insure Scratch is up-to-date on his vaccinations.  I knew Scratch would have to go into a stock for the dental.  I really wanted to make sure he was safe.  I've had Scratch going through very tight openings for the last three weeks.

Listen, before I give you the story, Here are the "takeaways' from today's visit followed by a short video of the procedure.

  • Scratch is estimated to be 9 years old.  That means he was born around 2006 and was a stallion until 2013.
  • He got his teeth mechanically floated.
  • He received his EWE/WNV/TET and Flu/Rhino vaccines.
  • He Fecal Egg count was negative 
  • He has a body condition score of 5
Now here's the video.

Our appointment was for 1 pm and the vet is about 15 minutes away.  I haven't trailered Scratch anywhere since I brought him home.  I've gotten him in the trailer and drove him around and let him back out at the house, but we've never been someplace else and got out and back in the trailer.  The vet is near the freeway and car lots.  Much noise and balloons.

Scratch hopped in the trailer no problem.  We were about 10 minutes early so we just waited in the trailer.  It was about 96 in Bakersfield today, but overcast.  When everyone go back from lunch I put Scratch in a pen.  Dr. Tolley was on an emergency call and would be a few minutes late.

There was a stock outside similar to the one Scratch would be asked to walk into.  When it came time to take him in, I asked the handler to walk him through the one outside first.  There was a touch of resistance, but he complied.  And, when it came time to go into the inside stock, Scratch walked right in.

The exam went smoothly.  Dr. Tolley performed about $400 worth of vet work and was very helpful in determining age and body condition.

When it was over, Scratch hopped back in the trailer and we headed home.  Now it's time to go to work!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It's a Whole New World Out There

Scratch got his first taste of the saddle.  It's been a couple of good weeks with Scratch. It was quite an adventure.  I was having problems getting the front cinch done up.  Scratch had blown up so much I could not get to the first hole.  Who knew a horse could suck in that much air?  It must be a natural protective measure.  Anyway, Scratch is very good at it.

I've repeated the exercise a couple of times since and he has accepted it well.  He does move around a lot.  The back cinch is always last to go up.  He was moving around and getting worried about the way it was banging him on the legs.  I gave him the option of standing still and not getting bumped.  When he declined I worked him around the pen quickly and it banged on him a lot.  My goal is he will stand perfectly still while I get him tacked up.

He has been wearing the snaffle too.  It is getting much easier to get in his mouth.  Scratch is the poster boy for "fish butt lips"  -  you know his lips are closed so tight they are water proof like a fish's butt.

We are going to have to pick up the pace on some stuff.  His feet are getting long.  He tolerates me picking them up.  Next step is to get a rasp on them.  And, I should clarify, I've been working on the front feet.  Sooner or later, I need to get to the back.

We left the yard today.  Leading Scratch has improved and we walk around the yard.  He's great at walking between fences, under the trees and around the trailer.  I wondered what his reaction would be to the world outside the fence.  I opened the gate and he stopped dead in his tracks.

There were several surfaces he would need to cross.  First, there was rocky dirt.  Next, a railroad tie and a cement footing.  Finally, Scratch needed to walk down the concrete driveway and onto the asphalt street.  I doubt he has ever walked on concrete or asphalt.

Scratch really fought me on the very first step.  He reared and pulled back.  He was more reactive than I had ever seen him.  I wasn't sure what was causing him so much angst.  Finally, I committed to doing the sending exercise in front of the gate.  This was a big deal at first.  About the 10th time he started to calm.  I moved a small step closer, then a few more inches.

Scratch After his Bath
Opps!  He accidentally stepped on the railroad tie.  He stopped.  Nothing happened.  He continued.  That was a turning point.  Once he knew nothing would happen when he stepped on the railroad tie it was easy going to the asphalt.

We walked up and down the street.  Scratch saw cars go by, the neighbor's dogs, the other neighbor's goats and cows.  He showed some nervous energy at times, but each time he calmed down quickly.  We walked around for about 30 minutes.  We practiced yielding hindquarters and flexing.

Afterward it was bath time.  Scratch like the coolness of the water, but not the wetness.  He fidgeted as I got as much of the salt and sweat off as I could.  He looks so handsome when he is shiny and wet.  It did not last long, however.  As soon as I put him back in his pen he was down and rolling around in the dirt.  He was on his own time, I suppose he gets to do whatever he likes.

On another positive note:  Bakersfield Large Animal Veterinary Hospital has signed on to help sponsor Scratch in the competition.  They will be providing vaccinations and a dental exam.

I'm really excited for two reasons.  First, I love that Dr. Tolley supports the equine community.  He knows the organizers are trying to help these horses.  I'm sure he gets many requests, I am glad he honored ours.

Secondly, it is going to be very cool to find out how old Scratch is.  And, we'll get to see how his teeth fared in the wild.  Will he have a lot of hooks?  Are his teeth in better or worse shape than the average stable horse?  Will he have a reaction to the vaccinations?

Before I get him to BVH I'll need to insure that he is safe to work around.  I'll also have to get him back in the trailer.  I wonder what effect his first trailer ride has on his second?

I am preparing him to ride. He is ready.  This weekend would be great.  Ranae and I are going to work on a plan for Scratch's first ride, then we will rehearse it with my horse Jessie.  Preparation is the key to success and once I get to riding Scratch an entire new world will open up to both of us.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The First Week

Starting in Spurts and Stops

The first week is in the books.  Did everything go exactly as planned?  Does it ever?  Not with horses, rarely with anything else.  

We made good progress.  Scratch spent the week in his square pen.  I did think he would hook up to me a little quicker.  He remains a bit stand off-ish.

The Halter

I thought I had desensitized him plenty to the halter around his head and neck.  Scratch seemed fairly calm, as the horses do.  He was quiet as I lunged him.  When I went to put the halter on it bumped his nose and that's when I noticed I had neglected that body part.  He pulled his head back and I tried to go with him, but didn't.  This meant it was back to the starting point and doing it all over again.  The progression was slow.  When it came time for the second try he was ready.


Once the halter was on it was obviously I take leading my horse Jessie for granted.  Scratch doesn't know how to give to pressure.  He doesn't know to follow me.  Leading was a foreign experience.  We worked on this for hours.  The big problem was leaving the square pen.  He did not want to go through the gate.  Thinking back on Scratch's interaction with humans, bad things happen around gates.  When he was caught and gelded, he was likely sent through a gate.  When Scratch was loaded in our trailer, yep, through a gate.  Now, we don't make excuses for the behavior, but situations like this, I think it is good to know.  The knowledge helps me decide how much time I'm going to spend on this issue.  We worked on it slowly and in a way that kept him comfortable.


Just like the haltering, I rushed to handle his feet.  He got really nervous and it was necessary to back up and take it slow.  Just today I was able to pick up each front foot for two seconds and hold it.  They will need a rasp soon.  We'll keep working on this.

Jeffries Method 

The Jeffries Method is a desensitizing technique.  It is so much fun.  I jump up and down next to the horse.  Then I put my weight on his withers.  Then I jump up on his back and just lay over him while rubbing him all over.  He loves this.  He gets a good rub down.  As Clinton said, "There's just something about having you heart next to the horse that really quiets them down."

Below is a short video of our adventures for the first week:

Thanks for following along!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's in a Name

 Meet "Scratch"

Little Billy Shakespeare was right when he said "A rose by any other name is still a rose."  After many wonderful suggestions and much ruminating, (always good to toss a cow joke in a horse blog), we're calling my new horse "Scratch".

I stumbled on Scratch quite by accident.  The more I tossed the name aside, the more reasons came back telling me this horse was Scratch.  After all, many of the horses living in this herd are covered with scratches.  They are tough horses.  The world is a rough place for them.  Living with bumps, bruises, and scratches is just a part of getting up in the morning.

When we were getting to know each other in the first few hours of getting home, I let it be known the next four months would be filled with rub downs, pats, and scratches.  At the time, he (known as Whats-his-name then) didn't think much of any of those options. He had not yet discovered the magic of my fingers.  I know, given a chance, I can win him over.

The compelling reason to name him Scratch came from our starting place.  We are starting from Scratch.  I've not done this before, started a horse that is.  I've come a long way with Jessie.  We continue to have a good time together.  But last year as I watched the entire VHTC I thought, "This is a really cool event.  The people putting it on are great.  The horse are especially wonderful.  Wouldn't it be great to try."  The event is designed to showcase the horses and, I think more importantly, good horsemanship.  

It's one thing to study horsemanship - read books, magazine articles, watch videos - it's another to apply it to an un-started horse.  My podcast, The Whoa Podcast about Horses and Horsemanship (yes, shameless plug), has given me the opportunity to talk to and watch a good many excellent horsemen and women.  I've seen what others have done.  Now, it's time to put my knowledge to the test. 

Scratch reminds me of a lottery ticket.  What are the odds?  Two weeks ago, I'm certain he didn't think his life was going to change substantially.  I hit the jackpot being a part of this event.  I cant wait to see where it goes.  Scratch is also slang for money, i.e. "chicken scratch".  Maybe I should spell it with a dollar sign like this - $cratch.  What do you think?

And, scratches can be just minor irritations....unless you neglect them.  Then scratches can be a real pain in the ass.  Or, we could be just scratching the surface of learning about this horsemanship deal.  There are a lot of reasons to pick the name Scratch.  Scratch fits us perfectly.

Scratch and I are ready.  We'll do our best to learn about each others' world and our respective places in that world.  I'll take care of him and expect him to do the same for me.  

The next four months is a partnership.  As emotional as it is, I've already made the decision to auction Scratch at the end of the event.  These horses need homes.  The drought in California and the overpopulation of the herd make it a tougher place to live than it has to be.  If I can get him ready for a new life, a place with a kid to ride him and a dog to tag along, I've done my job.  The name Scratch keeps us humble and in touch with both our roots.  It reminds us today is a gift.  Pop it open and enjoy it. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Behind-The-Scenes Video of The VHTC Horses

You will see a little of what we saw and see my horse load in the trailer for the first time.

Day One - A new Beginning

 It was an exciting trip to Tehachapi to pick up the horses.  Tehachapi is about an hour drive east of us.  There are a lot of wind turbines there to generate electricity.  We bet up with everyone at the gate for the five mile drive to the meadow where the horses hang out while the grass is good.

The organizers spent Saturday rounding up as many horses as the could for the eight trainers to choose from.  Coming around the corner and seeing the meadow for the first time was truly a remarkable site.  About the last have a mile and band of 6 or 7 with a foal ran along with us.  As you come over the rise it opens to this meadow where 60 to 70 horses stood grazing.  I am certain most every trainer felt like I did:  it was truly and honor taking part in this event.

 After a group meeting to discuss rules and such, names were drawn from Organizer Jeremy Dunn's hat.  My name came up last.  After the draw the group was given 30 minutes to choose their horse.  There were many great looking mares.  The rules stipulated you could take a mare, but if she had a foal, they were a package. Jeremy said there was also a chance Momma could be pregnant too.  I knew that was more than I could handle.  I set my sites for a gelding.

These horses are a bit smaller than Jessie my Quarter Horse.  There are a lot of withers on them either.  There were a couple of stallions in the group.  You would be required to geld them before the event in October.  If you picked a stallion, you could choose to bring it back on July 11th to be gelded by the Oak Creek caretakers or pay for it yourself.  Because I'm completely new to this, I wanted to have as much time with my horse as possible, so I was looking for a gelding of good size.

As luck would have it, by the time it was my turn to pick, there just so happened to be one.  Not sure how old he is.  My guess might be 6 - 10.  He was gelded in 2013 (the brand a number on their hip).

He loaded well, trailered home with ease.  I placed him in the pen and he was a bit nervous.  It was hot - 105.  At first he didn't take water or feed.  As the afternoon rolled into evening he drank.  I was concerned he had not pooped.  He didn't look uncomfortable, but even my 9 pm nothing.

The next morning there was one pile in his pen.  I started working him.  I could touch him and rub him most places.  He is a bit jumpy.  His escape seems to be backwards.  I hope this translates to a good back up.

My goal for this week is to keep working, get him haltered and wormed.  Once that is accomplished, I'd love to get the dental out of the way.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Night Before

Tomorrow is the big day.  I must say it is a bit of an ominous feeling.  Getting another horse is one thing.  Getting a wild horse of Oak Creek is another.  Getting a horse I know I'm going to train to be auctioned off in 4 months is bizarre.

I'm not one to let go of animals I make a relationship with.  It's not in my nature.  If I choose you for our family, it is usually for life.

I'm going to state my goals here before I start.  That's not to say they won't change.  They probably will.  Stating them here is just to see HOW the change.  This is after all, an adventure.


#1.  Don't get killed or hurt.  The only way I'm any good to this horse is if I'm healthy.  Three weeks ago, I re-instated my workout routine.  My goal is too stay fit and to ask the same of my horse.

#2.  This is called the Vaquero Heritage Trainers Challenge.  Listen, I'm no Vaquero.  I'd love to be, but I'm not kidding myself.  What I know about horsemanship compared to those guys would not fill a thimble.  But I have studied horsemanship.  I know a bit more than some.  I am qualified to do this.  But, I will not pretend to be something I'm not (even if it's something I've strive for) - a vaquero.  I have to use the tools I have now, not the ones I hope to have.

#3.  The people putting this event on are doing so to place these horses in qualified homes.  They are also trying to reduce herd size.   The only way this horse is going to find a qualified home is a) I make sure it is healthy and b) I make sure it is safe.  I think I can deliver on both those accounts.  I want to deliver a horse that is dead broke.  One a kid can ride on the trail, maybe work a few cows, but more importantly, be a willing and trusting partner.

I think I know the Downunder Horsemanship Method pretty well.  That's going to be my test.  How well do I really know it?  My horse will provide that answer.  Yes, I am apprehensive about the new horse.  I take that as a good sign.  If there weren't apprehension, if I weren't worried about the outcome, what kind of trainer would I be?

Tomorrow is the big day.  I'm not sure how busy I'll be with the new horse, but I hope you will follow along.  If you ever thought about starting a horse, if you ever wanted a challenge, come along with me.  Read and learn about my journey.  I promise to tell you not just the highs, but the lows as well.  Together, let's learn a little more about what we call horsemanship.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Well Crap

You would think you could get a little cooperation once in awhile.  I'm not asking for much.  Jessie and Dusty live side-by-side.  They have for like 8 years now.  In preparing for the new Oak Creek horse, I thought I would get a round pen for us to work in.  If I could get Dusty and Jessie to bunk together, I could put the new horse in Jessie's paddock.

Dusty's side is 60'x40'.  It's the larger side.  I put Jessie in there this morning.  We fed.  They did well.  They moved around, postured a bit, kicked the air, but nothing really aggressive.  We rode a couple of hours, put them back together for the afternoon.  We had a function to go to, so I threw them each a flake of hay, watched for a bit, then off we went.  Havoc must wreak while we are away.  We come back to find a gash in Dusty's left butt and a few nicks on Jessie.

On to housing plan B.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A New Opportunity

After much consideration and discussion with my wife Ranae, I decided to test my horsemanship skills at the Vaquero Heritage Trainers Challenge.  You'll need a little back story.

Last year I covered the event for my Whoa Podcast about Horses and Horsemanship.  The way I understand it, there were many Morgan horse breeders in the Tehachapi area in the late 1800's.  In the early 1900's as WWI was looking inevitable the US Cavalry came looking for horses.  The Tehachapi ranchers did not like the price the Army was offering.  The Army responded by drafting the ranchers thinking they would get the horses in the deal.  The ranchers let the horses go and hid in the mountains.  For the next hundred years the horses were left pretty much to themselves.

Now there are too many horses on private land and, with the drought, unable to adequately support them.  They are known as the Wild Horses of Oak Creek.  Some folks have taken up the challenge to shrink the herd by having a colt starting competition, The Vaquero Heritage Trainers Challenge.  I applied and was accepted as one of six trainers.

We get our horse on June 14th and will have until October to train him (or her).   The show will be October 9th. 10. and 11th at the Sterling Arena in Tehachapi.  On the 9th, we will get another Oak Creek Horse.  This one we will train in front of a live audience and judges.  Over the three days we will show the horse we've been training all summer and on the final day all the horses will be auctioned to support the management of the herd.  (Some trainers may elect to keep their "long" horse.)

There's the background.  I hope to add more as we go along. This is set to be one exciting journey.  Please share it with me.